The first thing that greets a visitor to the annual Central Iowa Food and Beverage Expo is the wonderful smell of something cooking.
It could be a lot of things: samples being prepared by Iowa Central Community College culinary arts students, entries being finished in the high school cooking contest or maybe something delicious being created in a student cooking demonstration.
It might even be something a bit exotic, like wild boar.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Senior High School students Ben Montero, left, and Hunter Doyen work on a Spanish chicken recipe Saturday afternoon as they participate in the high school culinary arts cooking contest at the Central Iowa Food and Beverage Expo in the Career Education Building.
Robert Lennon, of Fort Dodge, was helping introduce guests to the domestic pig's brother.
"They're a bit hesitant at first," he said. "Very few have tried it."
"They love it," he said. "One person said it's the best sausage they've ever had."
He did offer the reluctant ones a new way to look at it.
"It's just a wild pig," he said.
Anne Charlson, of West Des Moines, had a pretty positive reaction to the new flavor.
"I love it," she said.
She said she was pleasantly surprised at the size and scope of the Expo and very happy with all the samples.
"This is my lunch," she said.
Working on a dish as a group, Fort Dodge Senior High School students Ben Montero and Hunter Doyen were busy slicing up peppers and other vegetables to go into their cooking contest entry - Spanish chicken.
They were cool under pressure.
"We're just cooking," Montero said.
How were they expecting to do?
"Hopefully first place," Doyen said.
Their instructor, Julie Schreiber, was standing nearby. Contest rules prohibit her talking with her students after the first ten minutes - she was fighting the urge to help.
She was confident.
"They'll do great," she said.
Kyle Niemier, of Gowrie, was assigned to develop a display for the Expo. He choose to focus on organic versus nonorganic cheese.
He was surprised to find that he had a preference.
"It was benevolent to me until I tried them," he said.
He plans on trying to use not only organic foods but also as much locally produced food as possible in his career.
"Anywhere it's possible," he said.
Renae Grogan-Hulsebus, owner of The Cheesecake Lady, was one of many local vendors at the Expo.
She was offering samples of her chocolate and white chocolate brownies. Some are so rich in chocolate, she has to use the word several times to describe them - chocolate chocolate brownies.
She was doing a brisk business in cookies too.
"It's been busy since I got here," she said.
Chef Michael Hirst, who leads the Iowa Central Community College Culinary Arts program, said he has a simple goal for the event.
"We're promoting Iowa food and beverage industries," he said, in addition. "It's a great chance for students to interact with the public."
It also helps raise money for the students annual trip to the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago. The students spend five days attending the show and visiting fine restaurants in Chicago.
"It all goes for the trip," he said. "There's not a penny of profit."
He said that the Expo has been growing every year, both in the number of vendors offering everything from locally produced wines to professional chef knives, and in the numbers attending.
"We're seeing new business every year and new organic producers," he said.
The Culinary Arts program currently has about 90 students, he said.